Folks from time to time I would like to share with you some insight from fellow travelers on the road. One of these is a good friend of mine and a mentor Deacon Robert Kinghorn who calls St. Margaret’s of Scotland parish home base.
Several years ago Deacon Rob decided to start a new journey and he literally became an Itinerant Preacher although most of his preaching is done in the form of listening. Rob has been a deacon for 25 years and for most of that time he has dedicated himself to ministry to the sick and dying in hospitals. He told me that for sometime he had been hearing the call to add a new ministry to his work as a deacon and through prayer and the support of those closest to him he hit the road.
Donning his clerical collar on Thursday evenings, braving the warmest and coldest of nights, Deacon Rob walks some of the toughest streets in downtown Toronto.
Here is one of his homilies which was given on the 5th Sunday of Lent where the gospel is the Woman Caught in Adultery.
God says, “I do not condemn you” Homily for 5th Sunday on Lent Deacon Robert Kinghorn
Late one evening two weeks ago when I was out on my ministry on the downtown streets, I was down near Wellesley and Homewood. I saw a woman I had not seen for about a year. She is one of the women that scripture would describe as, “Having a bad reputation in the town.” I used to see her most weeks but she had disappeared for a while. I crossed over to talk with her and when she recognized me she gave me an embrace that after about 15 seconds began to feel a little uncomfortable. She was wearing the same perfume of alcohol that she always wore. I said to her, “I have not seen you for a while, I was worried about you.” It’s funny; I guess I expected her to give some reason for not being around, but instead she surprised me by asking, “Do you think God worries about girls like me?” We are used to saying that God cares for everyone, but sometimes that can sound like a God that cares for us like we care for a dog or a cat. You know, we feed them, and train them, and let them out and in. But a God that worries about us? What kind of a God can this possibly be?
The woman in today’s gospel is seen by those that surround her as a sinner and she has to be punished for her sins. After all is this not what the law says? This lady on the street is often judged just like this. By people who do not care to know about her past, or listen to her story of abuse, but the fact that she is there for all the world to see is enough to condemn her. I have seen her shouted at by passers by. People who are standing there with verbal stones in their hands, just like the holy people in the gospel. They were just obeying the law.
Jesus took a new approach. You heard him. He gave the answer to the question, “Does God worry about girls like me?” Last week in the gospel he told the story of the father waiting for his prodigal son to come home, worrying about him every day. Today we hear him say to the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you.” Isn’t this why we call it good news? We all know we deserve condemnation. We all know we deserve it. But at that moment we stand naked in front of the world with our lives exposed, just like the woman in scripture or the woman at Homewood and Wellesley, Jesus comes along and says, “I do not condemn you.” You see this good news can only be understood from the bottom, the point of view of the poor. This gospel is good news for the lady, but not good news for those around who really want to throw these stones. They have been practicing it for years since they really need to throw the stones so they can feel superior and keep their power, position and their possessions.
St. Vincent De Paul said, “The poor are everything we are, and everything we are to become.” They reveal to us who we are, if we are honest with ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves we can see ourselves and our secret sins and weaknesses exposed just like the woman in scripture and the woman on the streets of Toronto. In a strange way they are prophetic to us, showing us that it is not our good deeds that earn forgiveness, but simply a longing to hear that God worries about us and does not condemn us.
St. Paul in the second reading today said, “I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts; the perfection that comes from the law. But I only want the perfection that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Now, I know what you are all thinking. I have left out a part of the story. The final words of Jesus to the woman were, “Go away and don’t sin any more.” So I will end with the story I heard from Rick Tobias, who is the executive director of Yonge Street Mission.
Now Rick is a big man in all aspects of his life and by his own admission he could lose a few pounds. He had a lady who was a prostitute in the city come to him, and each time she would come she would talk about how guilty she felt. So after he had sent her away, like the woman in today’s gospel with the words, “Go and sin no more,” she would be back again and again. Finally he said to her, “I really don’t think you are serious about wanting to get off the streets.”
She replied, “Have you ever had something in your life that you just cannot give up, no matter how hard you tried … fatty?”
The prophet Isaiah in the first reading today said, “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See I am doing a new deed. Even now it comes to light; can you not see it? The people I have formed for myself will sing my praises.”
Jesus came to make this real; real in our own lives and real in the lives of everyone, and I mean everyone, that we meet. Now we have to make it real for others. This is why we fast, and pray and give alms; not so we can earn heaven, but in a strange way so that these can open us up to the see that God worries about us. That God says, “I do not condemn you”